Belmont Senior Services Dishes on Food Preparation

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Each day workers at Belmont Senior Services prepare nearly 1,000 meals for the county’s senior citizens, then they must hand wash all the pots and pans they use.

That’s because the small, professional kitchen – which measures 20 feet long by 13 feet wide – has no dishwashing appliances. All pots used must be small enough to fit into a sink.

The BSS kitchen and offices are located in the basement of the aging Oakview Building in St. Clairsville, and Tina Burkhart, nutrition program administrator for Belmont Senior Services, said the biggest issue she and her co-workers face is “space, space, space.”

Each day the dinners are prepared, plated then sealed in the kitchen. The machine that seals the meals is pulled into the doorway of the kitchen, then after the plates are sealed, drivers take the plates on a cart down a hallway to an outside door where a truck awaits. Some of the meals are delivered to senior centers throughout the county, but the majority goes to the home-bound senior citizens who qualify for home-delivered meals from BSS.

Once the food has been distributed, workers then clean and sanitize the kitchen area and hallway each day. BSS employs seven cooks and 10 drivers.

“Our worry is that as we approach the point where we are providing 900 or more meals each day, we won’t be able to produce what is needed,” said BSS coordinator David Hacker. “We don’t want to have to wait list people.”

County commissioners presently are considering options for providing additional space for BSS, and could relocate the BSS offices and kitchen to the county-owned Hab Center on Hammond Road in St. Clairsville.

Burkhart has worked in the BSS kitchen for 20 years, and she noted the changes in demand that have occurred there over time. In March 2000, BSS delivered an average of 501 meals to homes each day. Another 158 meals were distributed each day on the average to nine senior centers in the county, bringing the combined average number of meals produced each day at BSS in 2000 to 659.

By February of 2013, the average daily number of meals delivered to homes had risen to 870, with the additional number going to senior centers dropping to 73. BSS now plans to prepare about 950 meals each day with most going to homes, but Hacker doesn’t expect senior center numbers to rise in the future.

“A lot of the seniors who went to senior centers in 2000 just aren’t here anymore,” he said. “The 60-year-olds now are still in the workforce, and active with their grandchildren and other interests. This is changing the scope of our offerings in the future.”

Seniors qualifying for home delivery of dinners must be at least age 60, a Belmont County resident and be unable to prepare meals for themselves without a support system.

On a recent Friday during Lent, BSS served up a dinner of macaroni and cheese, peas and stewed tomatoes to seniors. To achieve this, workers cooked up 25 trays of macaroni, utilizing 27 industrial-sized cans of cheese sauce, 30 pounds of American cheese and 60 pounds of Velveeta cheese. They also prepared 150 pounds of peas, and 40 large cans of stewed tomatoes.

Each day, BSS goes through 11 cases of milk, according to Burkhart. This includes 550 half-pints of 2 percent milk; 175 chocolate milks; 150 skim milks; and 50 juices.

Burkhart said despite the daily challenges, she enjoys her job at BSS.

“I like what I do,” she said. “I feel like I’m contributing to a purpose.”